I love caramel. Let’s just get that out of the way there. I have said before I’ve found browned butter to be overrated (in taste anyway, the smell is heavenly), but caramelize up some sugar, and I am all about it. I’ve found that caramel and butterscotch sauces are incredibly easy to make, and more delicious fresh at home out of the pan than you could ever buy in a store. So… what’s the difference between caramel and butterscotch, many people wonder. Well, the answer is sort of complicated.
Typically, I have heard that caramel is made with white sugar, and butterscotch with brown sugar. Thus, the difference is primarily that the brown color in caramel is achieved from the caramelization of the sugar molecules, where the brown color in butterscotch comes from the molasses content of the brown sugar. Caramel is used to describe both the brown syrup from plain white sugar caramelized, as well as this syrup mixed with butter and cream to form a softer confection. Butterscotch can refer to either a syrupy mixture of brown sugar, butter, and cream, or also a hard candy that resembles toffee. Toffee, incidentally, is really just an alternative spelling of taffy, which are two very different sweets in America. Confused yet?
Toffee is generally defined as a confection made of boiling caramelized sugar with butter (and sometimes brown sugar). Though in America we usually only consider toffee as being brittle, in the UK toffees can be hard or soft, the latter being what we would call caramels. However, there is also a form of confectionary in the UK called cinder toffee, sometimes referred to as honeycomb here in the US, which is an aerated very crispy toffee made by combining caramelized sugar and butter with baking soda (and sometimes vinegar), which creates bubbles that are then preserved in the cooling mixture. It’s found here in imported candy bars Violet Crumble or Crunchie, and is also referred to as hokey-pokey sometimes.
I guess the essential lesson to come away with here is that language is variable, but you will not find one type of caramelized or sugar-butter-cream thing that I will not eat and enjoy. I tried salted caramel ice cream once before at a fancy ice cream shop, but found that it had a bitter, almost burnt taste to it. Thinking to eliminate this by making it myself, I will say that despite being very careful not to burn it, it does have a slightly bitter edge to it that was not unpleasant.
Now, I consider myself a huge ice cream fiend. More than once I have demolished a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, though I am also very fond of a Texan gelato I recently discovered at the market – the Caramel Cookie Crunch was divine, and the Double Dark Chocolate tasted like frozen creamy truffle, and at $6 a pint, both were more than worth it. That said, I found one scoop of this ice cream to be perfectly satisfying, and any more than that was honestly overkill.
Salted Caramel Ice Cream (makes about 1 qt.)
- 1 1/2 c. vanilla sugar
- 1/2 c. room-temperature unsalted butter, cut into eight pieces
- 2 scant tsp. large-grained gray sea salt
- 1 c. heavy cream
- 6 egg yolks
- 2 c. whole milk
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- Place sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat, and cook about 5 minutes without stirring, allowing the sugar granules on the bottom of the saucepan to begin melting. Stir occasionally until all of the sugar has melted.
- Turn the heat down to low and add the butter and salt, stirring until the butter has melted. Mine seized at this point and hardened into huge chunks, possibly because I added the butter in one big, cold lump. This is why I suggest the butter be cut into chunks and used more or less at room temperature.
- Add cream and stir until any hardened caramel has melted.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks until smooth. Very slowly, pour a few tablespoons of the caramel mixture onto the egg yolks, whisking constantly to temper them. Then, add the egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan along with half of the milk. Rinse the bowl.
- Heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture has thickened and coats the back of a spoon. Pour through a mesh strainer into the bowl. Add the remaining milk and vanilla extract. If you’d like to cool the mixture off quicker, place the bowl into an ice bath and whisk constantly. Otherwise, place plastic wrap over the bowl, pressing onto the surface of the mixture and refrigerate several hours until chilled. Process in ice cream machine, and freeze until hard.